MICHEL ROUX JR
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Father and Sons ]
of the inalienable rules of family businesses is that
sons always want to do things differently from the
way their fathers did them, and fathers always insist
on interfering after they've 'officially' retired.
Has this been true at Le Gavroche? John Radford talked
to Michel Roux jr.
No and no.' 'Well, perhaps a bit, and not as much now
as at first, and not necessarily.' What was the third
question again? Is he chasing the return of the third
Michelin star? It's a bit too complicated to explain
in a few words, so we'll return to it later and start
at the beginning instead.
Albert Roux is known as 'Michel junior' to avoid confusion
with his uncle Michel (of The Waterside Inn) and it's
just as well that 'Michel senior' called his own son
Alain and not Albert as this would have been hopelessly
confusing. Michel junior was born in England in 1960,
seven years before his father and his uncle first established
Le Gavroche, and he thinks he was always destined
to cook. Certainly his education was steered that way
pretty effectively from the age of sixteen, when he
was apprenticed to Maitre Patissier Hellegouarch in
Paris. Patisserie, as many great chefs will tell you,
is the best way to start in the cookery business. In
terms of selection of ingredients, the basic disciplines
of cooking and attention to detail in the finished dish,
it is almost a microcosm of the culinary arts, and Michel,
like his father and uncle, still admits to a love of
working with pastry.
three years, having learned the basics in Paris, he
worked under his father in the kitchen of (the original)
Le Gavroche for six months as a lowly commis
de cuisine, leaving just before his twentieth birthday
for a two-year stint with the legendary Alain Chapel
at his eponymous hotel and restaurant in Mionnay, in
the Rhone-Alpes region of France. Michel admits that
Chapel was one of the most significant influences on
his style and work, and that these were the formative
years of what he has been able to achieve since.
was back to London and (the new) Le Gavroche
at the beginning of 1982 for three months, learning
his way around the new kitchen before military service
intervened. Michel spent this (as did his cousin Alain,
now at The Waterside Inn) cooking at the Elysee Palace
in Paris during the tenure of Presidents Valerv Giscard
d'Estaing and Francois Mitterand - the French armed
forces are as serious about cookery as everybody else
in France, but it does make you wonder what he'd have
cooked up for the troops if he'd ever been called out
on active service. After ten months serving up staff
meals and working on the odd state banquet, Michel spent
March and April of 1983 learning about meat at the famous
Gerard Mothu in St-Mande in the Paris banlieu, before
extending his knowledge for a further three months with
one of the most respected charcutiers
in Paris: Boucherie Lamartine on the Avenue Victor Hugo.
this time Michel had been schooled in most aspects of
food and cookery but, just for good measure, he spent
August of 1983 working for Finlay Robertson Chartered
Accountants in London, to make sure that he also had
some idea of what's involved in balancing the books.
first 'senior' post came next: five months as sous-chef
at Gavvers, the restaurant which had been the original
Le Gavroche, but there was still more to learn.
In January 1984 he moved to La Tante Claire in Chelsea,
going back to the rank of commis but working with one
of London's greatest chefs, Pierre Koffmann. He stayed
there until August and spent the rest of the year at
the Mandarin Hotel in Hong Kong - one of the world's
most luxurious hotels and now known as the Mandarin
returned to England at the beginning of 1985 and spent
the next four months working with his Uncle Michel at
The Waterside Inn in Bray. In May 1985 he turned 26
and, you might think was ready to take on a bit more
responsibility in the kitchen. Indeed he was, but not
yet at Le Gavroche. At that time the Roux brothers
- Albert and Michel sr. - had a small catering empire
which included not only The Waterside Inn and Le
Gavroche but also Gavvers, Le Poulbot, Rouxl Britannia
and Le Gamin as well as contract-catering and specialist
patisserie companies. Michel jr worked as chef there
for five years, coping with the financial, management,
logistic and culinary deadlines inherent in such a business,
during which time he had more then enough opportunity
to experience almost everything that the restaurant
business can throw in the way of a chef-
1990 Albert turned 55 and decided that, perhaps, it
was time for his son to take 'over the reins at Le
Gavroche. This coincided with a restructuring of
the Roux 'empire', with the peripheral business being
sold and Michel Sr. taking over sole ownership and responsibility
for The Waterside Inn, whilst Albert did the same at
Le Gavroche. So finally, at the age of just 31,
Michel Albert Roux became chef de cuisine in place of
were big boots to fill' says Michel. 'And my style of
cookery is different from that of my father.' He describes
Albert as being the archetypal 'classical-bourgeois'
chef: very traditional but, 'of course, he was trained
in a different era, and London in 1967 - or 1977 or
even 1987 - was a very different place from a restaurant
point of view compared with today'. Michel wanted to
be a bit more inventive - to offer something new as
well as the classic dishes which had made the restaurant
famous without sacrificing any of the quality; to make
the service more 'client-friendly' without losing its
professionalism or efficiency. Did Albert approve?
still eats here regularly', says Michel, 'and he always
says exactly what he thinks. These days, he has a bit
less to say than he used to. . . .' And what about the
stars, those coveted, gold-plated Michelin stars? They
are not, of course, awarded to the restaurant, they
are awarded to the chef, and when a chef changes restaurants
- or a restaurant changes chefs - the inspectors come
again and often to see whether and how things have changed.
In the event, three stars became two - still a pretty
good accolade for a chef in his early thirties, and
Michel is perfectly relaxed about that.
stars can be like cooking in handcuffs.' He says - the
discipline of maintaining exactly the same standards
in exactly the same dishes can become very boring. He
likes to experiment, and the Michelin inspectors get
very worried about that, but with two stars he can continue
the gentle evolution in what Le Gavroche does
without frightening away loyal customers. 'I want to
delight them and surprise them, but it has to be done
with the guarantee of quality which people have come
to expect of Le Gavroche.'
there's the clientele: Michel disparages the food-anoraks
who go to all the three-starred restaurants in the world
'just to get their passport stamped so they can say
they've been.' Rather like his father Albert at the
Cafe Roux in Amsterdam Michel wants a restaurant which
is busy, full of people who are there for the love of
good food and wine and who will come and enjoy again.
how important is the 'Frenchness' of Le Gavroche?
Vitally important, says Michel. Twenty, even ten years
ago there was a 'French' restaurant on almost every
street corner in London. In 2001 they're almost an endangered
species, but those which have survived are the ones
which never compromised on what they did and maintained
that guarantee of quality which is the most important
factor in the reputation of a restaurant or, indeed,
any other type of business. But, of course, there have
been difficult times in the recent past. The recession
of 1989 to 1994 saw restaurants queuing up to jump into
the well of oblivion as diners stayed at home in droves.
What happened at Le Gavroche?
don't claim to be recession-proof, but if you offer
value, and if you never compromise that value, and if
your customers know that it's absolutely certain that
when they come it will be just as good as it always
was, then you can survive. We had some quiet nights,
but not too many.'
41, Michel has a ten-year-old daughter called Emily,
and I asked whether she was showing any signs of interest
in becoming the third generation of the Roux family
to go into the kitchen, but apparently, so far, she
has expressed more of an interest in eating than cooking,
which is probably a very healthy attitude. And what
of Michel's own future? Does he see himself on the range
at Upper Brook Street for ever? Well, no, he says he
thinks he might like to do something different although
it's not likely to be very far from cooking. Indeed,
given Albert's consultancy work and Uncle Michel's burgeoning
career as a writer, there's probably a lot of opportunity
and, in any case, there's still a lot of work to be
done at Le Gavroche . . .
. . . Such as getting that third star? Handcuffs or
not, it's a copper-bottomed calling-bird for new customers.
He smiles and shrugs: 'if they offer it, of course I'm
not going to say no, but I'm not actively going for
if they offer it, and you say yes, and then they take
it away a year later because you've been too - experimental
for their conservative tastes? 'Easy come, easy go.'
is obviously a new definition of the word 'easy' that
I haven't encountered before.
published in Vivace [a way of life]
article has been published with the kind permission
of Michel Roux jr of Le Gavroche. Le Gavroche
is one of the UK's finest restaurants. Its opening in
1967 by brothers Albert and Michel Roux marked the revolution
of restaurants in London. Since then, Le Gavroche
has continued to set the standards of cooking and service
by which other places are judged - it was the first
UK restaurant to be awarded one, two then three Michelin
the reputation of Le Gavroche continues to ride
high in the eyes of critics and customers and now firmly
rests on the food prepared by Michel Roux Jnr who took
over the day to day running of the kitchen from his
father, Albert, in 1991.
you would like to visit Michel Roux jr's web site <click
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